Ethics Hero: Senator Rand Paul

I am not a Rand Paul aficionado, but Congress and the government would be far, far better off if more elected officials possessed his integrity and courage.

Currently he is being attacked, as those with integrity and courage often are, for objecting to the text of a piece of pure legislative grandstanding called the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which would make lynching a federal crime. “You think I take joy in being here?” Paul said. “I will be excoriated by simple minded people on the internet who think somehow I don’t like Emmet Till or appreciate the history or memory of Emmett Till.”

Indeed he has been, but Paul’s point is unassailable:  there hasn’t been a lynching in this country in more than 50 years, so the bill has approximately the same urgency as the Albert Packer Anti-Cannibalism Act, or a law making slave-hunting a federal crime. Most Senators, indeed all of them except Paul, seem to be willing to pass by unanimous consent this bill designed to further pander to the George Floyd demonstrators/rioters/looters, perhaps because some commentators and activists in their enthusiasm called Floyd’s death a “lynching.” Justice Thomas, as I recall, also called the effort to smear him and block his ascent to the Supreme Court by producing pre-#MeToo accuser Anita Hill a “high tech lynching.” But neither were lynchings; as Lincoln observed, calling a dog’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

Among his many objections to the bill, Paul pointed out that nearly none of his colleagues have read it, that it was sloppily written, and that too many laws get passed this way. “Someone has to read these bills and make sure they do what they say they’re going to do rather than it be just a big PR effort,” he said.

I can vouch for that: I read the bill, it is incomprehensible, and it’s primarily a  mea culpa for Jim Crow pretending to be a bill. It  goes on and on about the history of lynching and how it once was a terrible problem, but never suggests that anyone is still being lynched, because no one is.  Never mind: the anti-lynching law, we discover when we get to the very end, will apply to any “hate crime” in which an individual is harmed by police out of racial animus. It is, in fact, an entire law embodying the hot rationalization of recent weeks, #64, Yoo’s Rationalization, or “It isn’t what it is.”

Laws shouldn’t do that, Senator Paul argued. He said that the bill could allow excessive penalties against those who commit  racially motivated acts of violence, far short of lynching, like slapping or pushing.  “Words have meaning,” he said. “It would be a disgrace for the Congress of the United States to declare that a bruise is lynching, that an abrasion is lynching, that any injury to the body, no matter how temporary, is on par with the atrocities done to people like Emmett Till.” Indeed, he read the bill. It could indeed be employed that way, which makes it, as he said, a bad and sloppy law. “The bill as written would allow altercations resulting in a cut, abrasion, bruise, or any other injury no matter how temporary to be subject to a 10-year penalty,”  Paul said. “My amendment would simply apply a serious bodily injury standard, which would ensure crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain be prosecuted as a lynching.”

If one had any doubts that Paul was the one keeping his head while all about him were losing there’s and blaming it on him, the arguments offered by Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris against Paul would erase them. Senator Booker said the notion that anyone would be charged with lynching for slapping someone was “absurd.” The law would allow someone to be charged with lynching for inflicting bodily harm. It is not absurd to object to a law that allows absurd and unjust interpretations. The argument, “Oh, we would never do that!” is undercut by the rich history of over-zealous prosecution.

“The frustrating thing for me is that at a time this country hungers for common-sense racial reconciliation, an acknowledgment of our past and a looking forward to a better future, this will be one of the sad days where that possibility was halted,”  Booker blathered. Huh? How does a law against a non-existent crime that will open the door to calling acts not constituting that crime what those acts are not, thus punishing them more harshly, qualify as “common sense”?

Harris was worse. “To suggest that anything short of pulverizing someone so much that the casket would otherwise be closed except for the heroism and courage of Emmett Till’s mother, to suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out and produced and displayed to someone else, is ridiculous,” Harris said, setting a new high bar for straw man arguments. On “The View,” she made even less sense, which given her audience, I suppose is understandable:

“It has been over 100 years that people have been trying to pass in the United States Senate, in the United States Congress, an anti-lynching bill I felt very strongly about,’ Harris said. Yes, Senator, that’s because a hundred years ago blacks were being lynched. Are we going to have a wave of nostalgia bills now, passing laws that are moot?

This woman was once considered a strong candidate for President.

She went on, “What Rand Paul is doing, which is one man holding up what would be a historic bill recognizing one of the great sins of America — and it was on the day of George Floyd’s funeral which just added insult to injury and frankly made it so painful that on that day that’s what was happening.”

Yes, Kamala Harris thinks that it is responsible to rush a bad bill into law because a funeral is being held.

Praise is due to Senator Paul for opposing unserious lawmaking on serious topics, while others in his party yawn and shrug, “Whatever.”


Facts: New York Times, The Hill 1, 2.

17 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Senator Rand Paul

  1. Having represented way too many Domestic Assault-Strangulation Defendants, I have no doubt a lynching charge will be abused.

    If they were interested in an anti-lynching law, they should go back to the one Democrats refused to pass 100 years ago. Problem is that it might not cover someone like Till (have not read the bill but he might not fit the definition). Maybe they should get busy repealing all the Jim Crow laws that have been left in the books since Brown v. Board of Education.


  2. Jack,

    “… there hasn’t been a lynching in this country in more than 50 years …”

    By whose definition? The dragging death of James Byrd in 1998 had all the hallmarks of a classic one. Whether it fits the literal definition, it is often seen as one, as have other cases.

    • “Often seen as one” is not legal terminology. Byrd was murdered. Simple as that. It was prosecuted as a hate crime. Two of his killers were executed, one got life without parole. If you see the need for yet another federal law in that scenario, please explain it.

      • Jack,
        I hate bills like this. I only mean that I don’t understand what makes one murder a lynching vs. another? A group of men murdered Byrd based largely/entirely on his race by dragging his bloody, beaten body down several miles of road until his eventual decapitation.

        Legally, it only counts as a murder (and should) but I have no problem referring to it as a lynching in the court of public opinion. I realize most folks can’t hold that kind of nuance, but why can’t it be both? The same way that OJ is a killer, but not guilty (depending on which trail), infidelity is slimy, but not illegal (anymore), and Nixon was a liar but not a crook (that last one was a joke).

        • James Byrd’s murder was gruesome. I can only hope he died quickly. I cannot imagine the horrors he may have suffered at the hands of three brutal animals. I give credit to his family. In the face of really awful evidence, stupid demonstrations, and hateful things said about him and his family, they remained poised and strong, relying heavily on their faith. I am not sure I could have done that. James Byrd’s brutal murder caused me to rethink my beliefs on the death penalty. I had ask: Are there some people who have forfeited their rights to live in our society? Do we want them in our midst? If so, why do we want them here? Do we really care about their “spiritual redemption”?


      • Oh! 39 years ago, rather than 50! Got me! It IS urgent tp pass federal legislation on a crime last committed only 39 years ago. I am abashed.

        Since you want to play trivia, it is questionable whether Donald’s death fits the definition of lynching. It was hate crime, he was murdered because he was black, but not for any act of his, and he was killed, then his body was hung (not hanged.) He’s was just as dead, of course, but the incident does not rebut the statement that lynching is no longer a criminal justice crisis, or even a problem, in the US.

        • Yeah, I don’t think we need a new law either, I just personally remembered this incident because I lived there. He was abducted in Mobile, taken to an adjacent county and murdered, then brought back to Mobile and hung from a tree. There were some klan people involved.

  3. My first reaction was that the Democratic senators had decided the best waste of their time was to loudly signal virtue by making attacking and hurting or killing a person somehow more illegal than it already is, but that they were too incompetent to do it right. Then a couple things occurred to me, listed in order of increasing drama.

    The second thing that occurred to me was that it’s trivial for them to write it wrong on purpose and claim the Republicans were stalling by insisting on a good version of the bill. The Democratic constituents are credulous enough to think the Republicans are the villains in that scenario.

    The first thing that occurred to me was that by making whatever-they-define-as-lynching a federal crime, that means it would be investigated by federal law enforcement and prosecuted in federal courts. I have no idea if that’s somehow bad in and of itself, but it seems to be moving things in the direction of consolidated federal power.

    When power is centralized, it’s easier to seize it and screw things up for large numbers of people. I don’t think decentralizing power is sufficient to solve the issue, and there are many advantages to centrally coordinating certain things, but for the time being I’d like to keep the current political factions as insulated from actual power as possible.

  4. So, we’re in “a time [during which] this country hungers for common-sense racial reconciliation?” That’s what time this is? Thanks Cory, that’s a Jumbo.

  5. Is there a legal definition for “lynching” that is different than murder? Or is this just a law to make an existing crime more illegal-er?

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